Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons learned from the 2011 village elections

This was a great year for political junkies and others in New Paltz.  Four mayoral candidates, 7 competing for two trustee seats, and two more vying for a two-year term in a cursed seat.  I heard a lot of different views and watched many different strategies.  Here's a smattering of what I learned.  Hopefully it will help candidates in future elections.

  1. Negative campaigning doesn't work.  Watching the debates, I got the impression that three people were running for mayor, but the fourth was running against Jason West.  This strategy is often employed when an opponent has a hate club, but it always seems to fail.  Rick Lazio has made a career out of having no qualifications other than not being Hillary or not being Cuomo. John Kerry was possibly the only man alive who could have lost to Bush in 2004, all due to his "I'm not George" campaign.  People want to know what you are,, not what you're not.
  2. Turn your signs around.  One candidate's lawn signs were always placed parallel to the sidewalk, where they were visible mostly to residents and neighbors across the street.  Unless you've got several hundred very obedient tenants, turn your signs so we can read them as we walk and drive by.
  3. Public speaking matters . . . somewhat.  Not every candidate was cut out for public speaking.  One earned my respect because he was willing to try anyway.  He got nearly 300 votes despite that disadvantage.
  4. Knock on doors.  I got two door-knocks that I know about, one of which caught us at home.  Both the knockers won last night.  It's the only way to reach out, particularly if you have trouble speaking to large groups.  Walk around.  Talk to people.  Be memorable.
  5. The red card.  Whoever sent the anti-West "red card" out just prior to the election most likely got him votes.  No matter who it was, it was slimy and underhanded.  One candidate was implicated by some due to his public anti-West comments (see how keeping things positive helps?), and fair or not, I think the votes West due to the red card may have been destined for that other candidate.  I will publicly disclose that person's identity as soon as I have proof.
  6. Seniors matter even more.  Senior citizens are more likely to vote, have more time to pay attention, and have the experience to form solid opinions about what works and what doesn't.  Woodland Pond has made it possible to reach out to a big chunk of the senior community easily, and I saw a lot of residents voting when I did.  I also heard a lot of condescending remarks aimed at seniors during the campaign ("you're lucky to be here"), and the folks on line with me confirmed that yes, they were indeed insulted. Senior citizens know more than younger people, and see things with a perspective we just can't grasp at a younger age. Ignore them, or patronize them, at your peril.
Here's hoping for a nondysfunctional village board.


Martin McPhillips said...

@ Point 1: Negative campaigning does indeed work. Other than the red postcard, I didn't see much of it. And it works best when it's true, in my opinion.

@ Point 4: Absolutely.

@ Point 5: The "red card" was lame. First of all, you want voters to have something like that in their hands to mull over through the weekend before election day, not spring it on them the day before. Second, the messaging on that thing was cryptic AND badly stated. It is not likely, as you suggest, to get the target any more votes, but it's a shrug off.

The real point is that a campaign must be seriously run, with a great deal of energy. If you want to define the opponent so that voters will reject him, then you have to make a clear and convincing case that's easy to grasp.

Also, "One candidate was implicated by some due to his public anti-West comments..." Never heard them. From what I saw at the debates (I sampled them; they were almost unbearable), the candidates seemed to treat one another with reasonable cordiality. Very annoying.

@ Point 6: I would like to know who (and from which campaign) you heard tell seniors "you're lucky to be here." I'm trying to imagine who could say such a thing and on which candidate's behalf.

John Bligh said...

The Red Card is the scandal of the year (so far) and has the potential to create rifts in town that will be felt at least until the next election. I haven't seen the card in question (since I don't live in the Village), but it seems someone has a major beef against Mayor West but not the rocks to come forward publicly. Quite a cowardly act, I'd say.

I'd also be pretty damned angry were the target of such a spineless attack. We live in interesting times, indeed.

Martin McPhillips said...

The "scandal" of the red car is that it was so poorly executed, from my point of view. And if it was going to have an impact, it needed to be verifiable, with some recognizable names behind it. There's an easy-to-spot error in the second bullet point, for instance. I don't object to the sentiment behind it. But very badly done.

This was Gallucci's election to lose, in my opinion, and she did that very well. Although it's remarkable, to me, that West got almost exactly the same vote total as he did when he lost four years ago. I thought that number would shrink by three-quarters. This election taught me something about New Paltz that I didn't really want to know (I'll discuss it another time), but all knowledge is good, right?

Anonymous said...

Great job on the "Red Card!" The information was in the spirt of and the definition of gadfly. The stats swayed me away from a second mistake, as I voted for West the first time and had buyers remorse. Too bad he won but we will be watching him closely as will the auditors from NYS.

Martin McPhillips said...

Anonymous, a "great job" on the red card could be claimed if West had lost, and voters were saying, "When I saw that...I just couldn't." It was not effective because it lacked clarity and authenticity. It's like when a hack golfer takes a big swing and the ball never leaves the tee.

Although, there is some cheap irony with the sore winner tint in the outrage about the damn card. Where, for instance, is the jubilation over the coming Long March of the "100 Ideas for New Paltz?"

I do agree with you that it's too bad West won. But as I said to Mrs. McP the other night, "It's bad for New Paltz, but good for Vandam."

Material like West doesn't come along very often. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

And this breathes life, as well, into the listless supporting cast.

Stephen Hillier said...

I agree with Martin. West vows that, whereas the first term was defined by gay weddings, the second will be about nuts and bolts, running-the-village ones (how novel). I suspect he'll quickly tire of the mundane tasks and lack of limelight they entail and overreach with some plea for attention that will end up accomplishing nothing but costing NP money.

Martin McPhillips said...

The "lesson learned" from this election is don't give into the temptation to ignore determined Leftist activists. Hit them hard the minute they form up a campaign, get them down, and keep them down. Never, ever deal with them on the ground of their own premises, and never let them normalize themselves. Of course those last two things are difficult in New Paltz where the mainstream Democrats are half out of their minds to begin with, but they know how to fight when they are paying attention. Now there are four years of payments to make for their inattention, and as hard as it is to consider, there's worse than West on that board, too, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Another reason why the state should be sued into changing the election law: these non-property tax paying, temporary dwelling, misguided students should not be allowed to vote in our local elections. They have as much of a vested interest in our small town as West does - none... This election, as most Liberal ideals, are just flashes in the pan. As already stated, this will amount to nothing more than another drain on New Paltz, kind of like all the functional morons on the Town of New Paltz Board. Ugh... Another reason I am selling my house and moving; of course, in addition to unbelievably high taxes.

Terence said...

I can give you a lot of compelling reasons why college students and other transients shouldn't participate in local elections, anonymous (most of them provided to me by the students themselves), but do you really think it would be constitutional to disenfranchise a citizen just because you don't like how they vote?

There's been a college in New Paltz for a couple of centuries. Did you not notice it when you moved in? You remind me of the village resident I know who moved here with her husband, carefully choosing a college town because of the opportunities, and carefully selecting a house within yards of the campus, and then started working on changing the noise ordinance because she didn't like how loud it was outside her house at night.

I find that the more room in one's head is taken up by a so-called formal education, the less room is left for a clue.